When Parents Fight

We are so unnatural around little children! We don’t want them to know about hurt, anxiety, anger, fear. More precisely, we don’t want them to know that any ‘negative’ emotions exist outside their little world. We behave like Gautama Buddha’s father 🙂 – let them not know there is anything but joy and pleasure and ‘good’ things.

But some day, your son will know. However hard you try, someday he will know that these troublesome emotions do exist. Someday he will learn that people are vulnerable to these emotions at every age, that no one is immune to them. Someday, he will have to learn to deal with these emotions.

One of the most common ways we try to hide the ‘ugly’ bits of life is the way we handle adult conflict around children. I’m not talking here about the ‘you were so thoughtless’ or ‘you were so rude’ kind of arguments. I’m talking about basic, major conflicts that you may have with your partner.

These may not be at the forefront of your consciousness: so you don’t argue all the time, but you wish your life could be different, your partner could be different, your relationship could be different. Or the conflict may be a living, breathing reality in your life: you are hanging on to the tatters of the relationship by your finger-nails, wondering how, hoping, praying, to make it work. Sometimes, you are trying to make it work only because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.

When your baby is little, you are too tired to put much energy into disagreement. As she grows, and your routine slowly swings back to normal, you feel more yourself, and more ready to make a point with your partner. You are still careful around her. But she sleeps enough hours in the day to let you have it out with your partner. So you feel she is protected from the conflict you are both experiencing. Any protection she enjoys is only relative, however.

I say your baby is only ‘relatively’ protected for two reasons. Firstly, I believe children take in a lot subliminally, especially when they’re babies. So somewhere, your argument is registering in her subconscious, if you are having it around her sleeping form. Secondly, if the argument is fierce, you will both be feeling its after-effects, and it will affect the way you will be with each other in the near future (till the problem is sorted out – if at all it gets sorted out). When she wakes up, she will get the unfriendly vibes that you are sending each other. Oh, yes! She will definitely know that there is conflict. So any protection she enjoys is only ‘relative’.

After a while, it becomes difficult to control yourself. Arguments may flare up for any reason at any time. There are hundreds of reasons to clash with someone, and only one to hold your peace.

You and your partner disagree about something. Both of you are unyielding. It might have started as a discussion of whether to go to Australia or Switzerland on vacation, but it has degenerated into how each of you is impossible to live with.

As the disagreement escalates and tempers flare up, vocal cords are out of control. One or both of you may start banging doors or throwing things around. If you realize in time that your child is awake and may be listening, you may put the fight away for the moment – till she is in bed, or elsewhere, so that no ‘damage’ is done.

You are proud of the fact that you don’t show conflict in front of your child. You present a united stand. You are loving parents who love each other. Yours is the ‘happy family’ that fairy tales end with.

Is this a good idea? I doubt it.

I believe you are doing your son a grave disservice by making him believe that life is a bed of roses. The sooner you can acknowledge reality and introduce him to it, the better equipped he will be to make his way through life with relative happiness.

He must know that people have differences of opinion, and that they work (or argue or fight!) to resolve them. He must know that it is normal to disagree with loved ones. It doesn’t make the love any less real. He must know that it is okay for people to feel anger and resentment against loved ones, and still be ‘good’ people, still be lovable.

In his life, he will be faced with conflicts. How will he handle them? If you don’t handle at least some conflicts in front of him, how will he learn how to handle conflicts in his life, in his relationships?  Would you rather he learnt how to handle conflict from the TV programs he’s hooked to or the movies he watches? He has to learn from somewhere, and he’ll learn from whatever and whoever is available. It is your decision to make. 

But there is a much more immediate cause for concern when you hide conflict from your child.

No matter what you do, your child will know something is wrong between the two of you. You may think you’re giving nothing away, but he knows

Children are egocentric – they consider themselves the center of the universe. 🙂 Whether at age 2 or 12 or 16, when it comes to their family, the world revolves around them.

So when your son sees or senses conflict between you and your partner, he unconsciously but naturally considers himself responsible for it. There must be something he’s doing or not doing, some way he’s behaving or not behaving, that is causing this rift between you and your partner.

You won’t be able to make any of this out from his expression. He might be stoical or matter-of-fact about your fights, but in his head and heart, he’s wondering how he can fix what’s wrong between the two of you.

He may become extremely docile to please you and make you happy. In his mind, this happiness will then spill over into your relationship and all will be well. Fixed! Or he may go wild. His wildness will give you both a common agenda and draw you closer together – towards happiness. Done and dusted!

But this doesn’t really happen, does it?

Your child struggles under the weight of the conflicts you are either suppressing or giving vent to.  Not quite what you’d intended when you started out as a parent, is it? More tomorrow…

5 Responses to When Parents Fight

  1. Preeti Hans September 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    It is quite a complex situation to handle… I agree with most of your points but i still wonder whether i would ever fight or argue in front of my kids!? waiting for the next post on this topic…

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